Posts tagged ‘Religion and Spirituality’

Recovery Part 2: Pain, Pain Another Day; Misery Go Away – photo illustrated

God Cried for Me And Promised Relief

It WILL get better...

Sometimes I feel like I can’t stop crying and other times I feel like I feel so much that I just stop feeling altogether. I discovered a forum last night for chronic back pain. I’ve struggled with it for years, the cause never diagnosed. Although, I have to say, it’s taken a back seat to some of my other conditions, like Bipolar Depression, for one. I’m hurting emotionally a lot worse than physically right now. Last night, I was crying for both reasons.

A couple weekends ago, I wasn’t trusting myself to remain safe, realizing that the irrational obsessive thoughts of death running through my mind were increasing and were disproportionate to my current circumstances (well, suicidal thoughts are always disproportionate, but…you know.) I checked myself into an inpatient psych unit, but left before I really felt ready because the crappy beds intensified my back pain SO, SO MUCH. I didn’t expect to go there and suddenly feel better, but I couldn’t handle feeling worse. There and since, I haven’t been able to sleep more than a few hours a night despite a combo of two medications for pain and one for sleep.

Anyway, I discovered in the forum a man who I think experiences much more physical pain on a daily basis than I ever have. I read through a lot of what he’d written. He acknowledged his emotional struggle with horrible thoughts (like my own, I imagine) but the mention was minor in the midst of his recounting of the wildlife around him. I found myself uplifted by his vivid descriptions. I felt transported. His experiences came to life in my mind.

But I was even more encouraged by the spirit of this man who noticed and cared for the forest and it’s creatures around him. He reflects on a cute albino raccoon baby. In the midst of a winter storm, he describes putting out hay for the deer, seeing the fear in their eyes. He tells of spending four hours one night making rounds to feed the animals. He reminded me that the only way to push through pain is one moment at a time, being in the moment and looking for the beauty. He reminded me that being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely. Lying in bed, I only see a brick wall out my window. But I’ve seen the beauty of nature in the past and my mind can still be my retreat.

My grandpa and grandma lived out in the boonies next to the Rock River. I’d forgotten, when I’m hurting, I can escape to “The Camp” in my mind. I imagine the man who wrote in the forum about his life in the forest finds the same solace in the nature around him. I remember, too, how connected to everything I felt and how loved I felt there. Sadly, my grandfather shot himself, when I was thirteen, because of pain that doctors hypothesize was from a brain tumor (too much of his brain was gone for them to know). That still is the most profound thing, positive or negative, that has ever happened to me up to this point in my life.

For many years, what I perceived as him “giving up” was an excuse for me to do the same. I never told anyone how much I hurt inside until I was nineteen, ten years after the thought of ending my life first occurred to me. However, I came to realize the experience of my grandfather’s suicide, when combined with a few others later, as something to save me. You see, I never want MY suicide to be anyone’s excuse for giving up. I finally realized God didn’t give up on me; God kept holding onto me when I couldn’t hold on.

I try to explain to people that that’s part of the difference between religion and spirituality to me. Religion to me is the specifics of one’s beliefs and how you live out and cultivate them. Spirituality is the guts of faith, realizing I’m not the be all or end all; it’s about humility and relationship. So I decided I couldn’t give up on the Good Orderly Direction of existence that continued to value me as a part of itself; I couldn’t ever “give up” again if I hadn’t done my part. I have to ask myself in every moment of crisis, “Have I done absolutely everything I can to help myself?” I’ve never since that time been able to answer “yes”, so I survive one day at a time through even my darkest moments. It’s just sometimes I’m only hurting terribly, really sad, and even depressed. But other times, I become downright miserable. I don’t have to be miserable. So, again, just for today, I choose joy over misery.

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On Blind Faith

A Break in the Flurries: Blind No More

Whether one hold to a religious faith or not, most are familiar with the phrase “on blind faith”.  Some are absolute proponents of the necessity in some circumstances of believing in something without proof.  Some will believe nothing without proof.  I believe there is a middle ground.  Personally, I am a very spiritual person, so I’ll make no apologies for my belief in a Higher Power, but I won’t tell any one else what to believe or that they should.  I mean instead to remind everyone that whether by divine creation or a pure evolution without a firmly known origin, we have a brain and ought to use it.  I’m simultaneously annoyed by, amused by, frightened for, and disappointed in those who trust completely in the words of another without exploring or examining an issue for themselves – “the followers”.  Most often such feelings wash over me in reference to those led by charismatic, self-identified religious leaders, but I’ve experienced the same even in looking over comments on blogs and social sites.  I could write a whole separate article on such “leaders”, but I’ll refrain for the moment except tp say one thing.  Ignorance masquerading as intelligence is a dangerously contagious virus.  I believe followers sometimes just don’t know where to turn for or how to access information, but often times I think followers are simply afraid to take on the responsibility of making decisions for themselves because they must accept that they are then fully responsible for the consequences of those decisions and the actions or inaction that results.

Sometimes we must weigh all the factors and make very difficult choices.  THose choices are our own and we owe no one an explanation or an apology.  If you have any faith in a Higher Power, in “salvation”…a belief that involves seeking enlightenment…a basic belief that you are meant to grow and change…even a belief that you are a meant to be an active participant in the evolution of the human race, then you know that ultimately, YOU AND NO ONE ELSE is responsible for YOU.  Only YOU know what YOUR heart is telling YOU, and only YOU have lived YOUR life and intimately know YOU.  NO OTHER PERSON know YOU better than YOU.  So, what will YOU choose?  Will YOU choose what is true? what is best for YOU? what YOU know is right? what YOU have discovered for YOURSELF?  Or will YOU believe simply what someone else tells you they believe.  Choose to believe what you will, but remember that beliefs aren’t necessarily facts, no matter how assertively or intelligently they are declared.  If YOU choose to not investigate or think for YOURSELF, YOU are still making a choice and YOU are responsible for that choice.  Similarly, be prepared to know that YOUR words have the power to lead others astray if such persons are ignorant of how to access resources for their own investigation or are lacking in the mental capacity to make reasoned decisions.

I Listened to a Book Today – poem

Cover of "A Wind in the Door"

Cover of A Wind in the Door

I want to tell you that this poem is a true testimony to perseverance and friendship. I rewrote the poem 11 times with the help of generous and constructive feedback – not just on this poem, but my writing in general – from my forum friends at Poetry Here And Now As may be already apparent, I write much of my poetry under the pseudonym Callisse J. DeTerre. Besides, those special friends I’ve mentioned above, I’d like to dedicate this poem to all the people who helped instill in me a love of reading and those like my good friend and youth services regional librarian, Krista Rakers of Saint Louis Public Libraries, who aim to do the same with the young of today. Reading redefines reality! Read, read, read and use your library to save a few trees!

I Listened to a Book Today

From a volume my mother
bought for me, More Tell Me Why,
I learned, at eight, my cat
could be frozen by a centipede.
By ten, The Narnia collection complete,
I traveled through A Wind In the Door
to lose myself in the Tao Te Ching.
Then Again Maybe I Won’t
unlocked the mysteries of men
but it was just the seed.

Filled with my search for connection –
Scripture, Jung and Chemistry –
my prep school book bag weighed in at
thirty pounds, with texts alone.
At twenty, reality struck –
people kill trees to answer me!
Now, at forty, I can hardly breathe.
So, today, as if to atone,
I listened to a book,
but it didn’t speak to me.

~Callisse J. Land, copyright 25 April 2011, revised 27 June 2011

Inspired by the Hope of Others

sign amidst the rubble at SOCMCC in Joplin MO

~~~To H O P E…
to Have an Optimistic Plan for Everything (for Eternity)~~~

Though I’m normally disinclined towards including what others have created in my blog, two things really inspired me recently and I wanted to share them to put my reflection in context. The first is a portion of a church’s email news I recently read. I’ve included an excerpt. The second was a link someone shared on Facebook. See further below. I, of course conclude with my comments.

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Pastor’s Corner

…Amazing things have been happening in Joplin as churches, businesses, and individuals begin to emerge from the massive piles of debris left by the F5 tornado. People who didn’t even know one another are joining together. People who may have not associated with one another are working together. Churches that didn’t support other churches are ministering together and to each other…

The barriers – real and imaginary – that have separated the people of Joplin have been razed in a mighty force of nature. Across that broad newly opened space, people are reaching out to one another and building community together. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. It’s a reminder of the courage of the human spirit. It’s a testament to the grace of God who can redeem anything – even total devastation brought on by such a powerful storm.

[A thought] expressed by several people was hope. Hope to sleep through the night. Hope to quit hearing the roaring of the tornado. Hope to find treasured possessions. Hope for insurance proceeds to purchase a car. Hope for an apartment or a home. Hope for a washer and dryer to launder the remaining clothing and donated clothing. Hope to always remember what is truly important, discovered when your world changes in six minutes. Hope to rebuild.

As I left …, I drove down Range Line Road a few blocks to the site of the Unity Church building that Spirit of Christ had called home for 15 years. I pulled into the driveway, rolled down my car windows, and looked around. I saw three things that really grabbed my attention: a newly planted garden where debris had stood during my visit on May 27; the angel statue standing nearby that lost its head in the tornado, repaired and whole again; and a sign that expressed so well what I felt in the hearts and minds of the people of Joplin… [The sign reads “Hope Grows Here” – photo above was part of this eMail News].

Rev Dr. Carol Trissell
Senior Pastor at MCCGSL ( mccgsl.org)

To read the whole article, follow this link to a copy of the entire newsletter eMail News MCCGSL

To donate to the church, who lost its home to the tornado (as did many of its members), follow the directions provided on the MCCGSL eMail News page you can access by clicking the link above.
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So the second bit of inspiration came from a Godtube.com video, Homeless Boy Wows Judges on Korea’s Got Talent

You’ll want to enjoy it yourself, but I’ll summarize a bit. The 22 year-old contestant was left at an orphanage at 3, ran away at 5 after being beaten, and  lived on his own on the streets selling gum and energy drinks for 10 years, sleeping on stairs and in public restrooms. He studied and tested out of elementary and middle schools, not attending a real school until high school. At some point in his youth, he was “sold” and while continuing to sell gum, but now in a night club, he was inspired by the sincerity of a singer onstage. He convincingly told the judges he was “not a good singer” and had had no formal training, but “like[d] to sing” before melting them and the audience with a richly voiced and heartfelt delivery of an Italian opera selection, “Nell Fantasia”, made famous in the movie, The Mission.

The English translation of the song: In my fantasy I see a fair world, where everyone lives in peace and honesty. I dream of a place to live that is always free, like a cloud that floats full of humanity in the depths of the soul.  In my fantasy I see a bright world where each night there is less darkness. I dream of spirits that are always free, like the cloud that floats. In my fantasy exists a warm wind that breathes into the city, like a friend. I dream of souls that are always free, like the cloud that floats, full of humanity in the depths of the soul.

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What struck me about both of these is the very real evidence of hope. Reverend Carol speaks of SOCMCC’s congregants expressions of hope, but some may look at this as an expression merely of their wishes and wants. In the video, the judges comment how they want the contestant, Sung Bong Choi, to be happy and comments on the video recognized the young man’s perseverence. I call your attention to the fact, though, that both of these stories show the spiritual fortitude and faith of people who survived and persevere because they chose to HOPE. The attitude of optimism towards our future can make all the difference in how well we are able to manage the worries, disappointments and heartaches of today. Optimism doesn’t guarantee success, but it certainly hurls us toward it. Meanwhile, any success achieved despite pessimism fails to be enjoyed. That is why I Hope…it is Because I Must. To not hope, to not have faith, is entirely too illogical to me. Hope allow us the opportunity to experience joy, in spite of sorrow and on top of happiness. Choose hope today. Find reason to rejoice.

You CAN be Perfect!

Figure 20 from Charles Darwin's The Expression...

Image via Wikipedia

To affirm, simply put, is to add firmness to. To affirm yourself, therefore, is to add firmness to you and to your self, to strengthen both your definition of yourself and your very being. Start by affirming what is known truth – you are human. What does it mean to be human? A human is not all powerful. A human is not all knowing. A human is imperfect. A human feels. Emotions convey a message. Fear tells us we do not know something. Fear is  useful. Fear is normal. Fear is to be expected. We have no reason to fear fear. Likewise, we have no reason to act is if we are fearless or to avoid anything that might evoke fear. Doing so reflects a form of perfectionism. Do not be afraid to fail or to succeed. You can be perfect – perfectly human, perfectly you.
We are meant to strive toward perfection, but neither to reach it nor to expect to reach it. To have a different mindset is to challenge God, to believe we can be equal. To judge ourselves unworthy of God’s love and mercy reflects an expectation that we can be perfect. Thus we manifest our true sin, pride. In refusing God’s love and likewise refusing to love ourselves, God’s creation, we withdraw our trust in God alone. We again forget we are of God. We no longer clearly and consistently recognize God. We begin to fail to see the God in others, but rather see only the façade which their separation from God requires them to create. We, in turn, seek affection from them instead of the God within they are meant to manifest. Hence, God is no longer our first and only love. We lose our way. We separate ourselves even further from the source of our very being, the only Perfect, in whom when we are ultimately united we are perfected in love.
So quit trying to be perfect. When anxieties arise, recognize the feeling as a reminder that you are human, just as you are meant to be. Rejoice that you do not know everything because it is not your responsibility or your burden. Affirm that you not only have a right to be afraid, but that it is normal to fear. Yes, I say rejoice that you have been wonderfully made, that you are extraordinarily ordinary. Rejoice that you know God and that God’s strength is yours for the asking. Just for today, choose to be, strive to be perfectly human. Tell yourself, ” I am perfectly human, naturally flawed, extraordinarily ordinary, wonderfully unique. I am meant to feel and to fail, to find favor and forgiveness in the fullness of God, forever and the only the Perfector of Souls.”  AFFIRMATION: Just for today, I accept and rejoice that I am a human being, created and loveable just as I am.

I Hope Because I Must

Spc. Jlynn Johnson (right), U.S. Army Health C...

Image via Wikipedia

God works in mysterious ways we cannot hope to understand, but it behooves us to remember that with God, nothing is impossible. Miracles are not just a thing of Biblical history. Neither are they simply beating tough odds. But such faith is borne out in our choice to hope. And when we choose to Have an Optimistic Plan for Everything (and for all Eternity), we naturally put forth the effort to cooperate as fully with God’s will as much as we are able. I recently visited my father who lives a state away from me. He told me he and his wife and my step-sister still pray God will heal me through the grace outpoured by Jesus the Christ. I always remind him that while it may not make sense to him or sometimes even me, I believe I bear the cross of my health problems for a reason and that God’s will may not be for me to be healed. My father nods his head , but I believe remains unconvinced. My father was a victim in an automobile accident. He wasn’t driving. He was hit by a truck while walking across a street. He’d just left work and as he took his last step onto the curb to reach the parking lot across the street, an overeager driver lurched forward into my Dad as the light turned green. Some of his injuries were termed the worst ever seen by the doctors where he was air-lifted. His pelvis was broke in half and folded into a 90 degree angle. He was told there was no chance he would walk again. However, that didn’t deter his determination. When the physical therapist would leave his room, he’d work a little harder, a little longer. He walks, albeit with a cane and pain, but he walks. He was shrunk 2-3” and he stoops over, but my dad, once 6’9” still towers over me physically and in my mind. My father chose to have hope. I admit that for many years I took his healing for granted, only marveling a bit at the story but not truly absorbing the magnificence of God’s glory at work.

painting by mollyjayne40, blog administrator, based on an image suggested by Zemanta on WordPress


I can relate many more examples of modern miracles, all personally known to me –some just as dramatic, some less, some more. For example, my cousin was diagnosed with sleep apnea and told how he’d have to wear a mask hooked up to a breathing machine the rest of his life. My cousin lost a significant amount of weight, got into better physical condition, learned better breathing techniques, and made adjustments to his environment. He no longer requires a machine and is on several less medications. My cousin said he never would have made the improvements he did if he hadn’t 1) accepted and used the machine which finally allowed him the physically and mentally restorative sleep  and the regulated schedule he needed to have the energy and organization to work towards goals and 2) chosen to have hope and to work steadily toward progress in his health in general with a chance at a pay-off some termed impossible. Another example and one which typifies the modern world’s response is that which occurred for a pastor at a church I formerly attended before moving. In brief, he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was being treated by a team of doctors at one of the most highly rated specialty cancer treatment centers in the world. Unfortunately, the cancer did not seem to be abating in response to any of the treatment. With plans for a visit cross-country, the pastor’s colleague and friend suggested he visit one of the other top cancer treatment centers which happened to be close to his destination. During his flight, while praying a preemptive thanksgiving for the “healing only the Good Lord can provide”, he noticed he was suddenly able to breathe better. Two days later, test results in hand and feeling confident that he had been healed, he arrived and began a new battery of tests. When the doctors at last descended upon him, they announced that he had no trace of cancer and had “obviously [been] misdiagnosed”. However they had no explanation for what may have caused all of the false positive readings on his test results as they had found no trace of any illness or injury in the chest, noting that his lungs and heart were easily that of someone 20 years his junior. I could continue with such stories, but I have one special one to tell.
full-body Positron Emissions Tomography
The following is the story that inspired this post. It is one that gave me chills when I first heard it and one that still does every time I retell it. In my younger years I spent several months discerning with a Catholic community of Benedictine Sisters. Ultimately, I did not become a part of the community but they’ve long held a special place in my heart. During my discernment period I worked with two vocation directors. On a visit last autumn I learned one of them had been diagnosed and was struggling with little response to intervention for an aggressive form of cancer with a low survival rate. I was saddened to see here subsisting on a liquid diet, as she could not keep down any solid food. Then, on another visit in February, I learned that this sweet woman of the “invisible habit” (that air of peace and example of righteous conduct that is far more visible and indicative of perpetual vows than any piece of cloth) had come to an agreement with her doctors to end treatment. For as many cancer patients will tell you, it is only the possibility of a cure that helps them to endure the suffering most cancer treatment produces. No cure could reasonably be expected for Sister F. And as my dear friend and the other once-vocation director said, “The doctors and she have done all they can. At this point all we can do is pray God blesses her with a miraculous healing if it is God’s will. We know it is possible and I know you will pray with us.” I did of course. All we could do was choose to have hope. This past month, on another visit, I noticed Sister F’s cheeks seemed more ruddy and her step seemed lighter. I asked Sister C, “So how is Sister F doing?” SIster C’s face brightened as she related the latest update. At a recent doctor’s visit, a PET scan plus four additional tests revealed not only that the cancer had not spread but that no trace of it remained. They had all been accused of colluding with God to put the doctors out of business. I cannot help but be encouraged and inspired, not only by the outcome of this story, but by the gracefulness with which this nun accepted God’s will, whatever it might be, moving as easily with serenity towards death as towards her life now continued. So, as Arthur Woolson says in recounting his personal story as the father of child diagnosed with Schizophrenia, “I hope because I must. For without faith, the dull sounds of existence would be too hollow to bear” (Goodbye, My Son – Copyright 1962)

Religion and Christianity

Jesus on the Cross

Image via Wikipedia

Religion and Christianity are neither synonymous nor mutually exclusive. If religion is the outward manifestation of a person’s belief system, then any number of behaviors – those both of morality and ritual – that are identified with the followers of Christ would be identified as part of the religion of Christianity. What one must question is whether such behaviors are in fact founded in the teachings of the early Church and It’s “founder” Jesus the Christ. We also must bear in mind that the Scripture of Christ’s day was in fact the Old Testament writings and that the collective wisdom of shared rituals across the communities of the Early Church point to the importance of honoring Tradition and the entire Bible. With proper respect for these factor, it becomes quite obvious that being a Christian requires that we rely exclusively neither upon just the New Testament nor a single pastor’s interpretation of Holy Scripture. Also, no Christian faith disputes that salvation is ours to accept through the mercy and grace of Jesus the Christ. What people get confused about is the concept of justification. Some think that having salvation, they are guaranteed to be united face-to-face with their Creator. This is not so and the Bible makes it quite clear. Accepting salvation brings us through a door into the Light, but we must still walk in The Way to reach communion with God. While it may make no sense that anyone who believes in the Passion would not walk that path, some do not or, rather, do not stay on the path because they are not diligent. Most often diligence is lacking first and foremost in a desire to keep learning. Growing spiritually requires it.